The revolution will not be printed

It’s not every day you come across a company that’s leading a real revolution, but that’s exactly what Israel’s Comsign ( is doing.

ZE’EV SHETACH, CEO of Comsign 311 (photo credit: c)
ZE’EV SHETACH, CEO of Comsign 311
(photo credit: c)
It’s not every day you come across a company that’s leading a real revolution, but that’s exactly what Israel’s Comsign ( is doing. And the revolution it is leading – the paperless one – will profoundly change the way we and future generations live. Plus, it’ll be good for the trees! Comsign, which was established in 2003, is a subsidiary of Comda, an Israeli company that was at the forefront of an earlier revolution – developing and instituting the TCP/IP computer networking standard.
In that earlier revolution, there were bumps in the road and resistance from those who were used to doing things “the old way” – and the story is no different in the new revolution, says Ze’ev Shetach, CEO of Comsign.
“Within 5-10 years I expect that most people will adopt electronic signatures, enabling them to do away with the paper copy of documents they need to verify all sorts of information. Going paperless has many advantages, and I believe as people get used to the idea, they will embrace electronic documentation.”
Which would be good for Comsign – currently the only company in Israel authorized to distribute digital verification root certificates, like VeriSign does in the US.
In fact, says Shetach, VeriSign is like Comsign’s “big brother” – his company modeled its certificate authentication and security system on VeriSign’s, and is today VeriSign’s authorized agent in Israel to distribute root certificates.
Without getting too technical (even for a column on high-tech startups!), a root certificate ensures that the public and private cryptography keys you use to connect to secure Web sites are authentic. Certificate recognition is built into Windows and other major operating systems, and is managed by the operating system to ensure authenticity. Of course, in order to be accepted into the small world of root certificate providers, companies – including Comsign – must provide top of the line security, for its hardware, software, and certificate issuance procedures. Again, following VeriSign, Comsign has instituted intensive screening procedures to ensure that the keys issued by Web sites are authentic, and houses its equipment behind concrete walls that can withstand sustained attacks from terrorists shooting M16s.
Authenticating commercial Web sites is only one part of Comsign’s mission, however.
In recent years, Israel has instituted a Digital Signature law, which allows the use of certified e-signatures. And Comsign is the only company in Israel that has taken upon itself to fulfill the very exacting regulations demanded by the numerous government agencies that supervise the authentication process and the e-security area in general, says Shetach. In fact, Shetach says the expense of meeting the government’s security demands has been so high, that had he known what he was getting into when he entered the certificate business, “I may have decided against it.”
It’s that complicated! But it’s the willingness to spend the money and time to stay ahead of the hackers and ensure that its certificates remain secure that has put Comsign at the forefront of the e-revolution that will finally fulfill the ageold digital dream of the paperless office – as well as the paperless home, factory, and even paperless doctor’s office, says Shetach. “When an organization or individual authenticates their signature with our certificates, it is as legally acceptable as a signature on paper,” he says – which means that any document that would otherwise have to have been printed on paper, signed, and then filed away in order to secure rights or guarantee obligations, can now remain in a database, ready to be called up for legal or personal reasons when needed.
This not only saves paper – it saves money, time, and hassle as well, says Shetach. For example, in a recent pilot program Shetach is particularly proud of, a number of doctors in the Clalit Health Fund were given a digital signature by the company (after they proved who they were using a biometric security system!).
The signatures are legally recognized for all purposes, and doctors can sign reports for hospitals and patients, as well as issue prescriptions. In fact, in the pilot program, doctors “wrote” prescriptions for patients, and transferred them automatically to Clalit pharmacies; patients had but to go to the pharmacy, show their Clalit member card, and pick up their medicine. No need to print out anything, says Shetach – “it’s all recorded in a file on the doctor’s computer and is sent to the pharmacy’s computer, eliminating extra work and waiting.”
Other organizations that have begun adopting digital signatures include Bezeq, Cellcom, the other health funds in the country, the Israel Lawyers’ Association – attorneys with authenticated signatures can now electronically submit to courts documents, statements, and even evidence – and the Israel Tax Authority, which now requires businesses doing more than NIS 4 million in a quarter to file and sign tax documents electronically.
As in any revolution, getting people on board with the changes can be the biggest challenge. “As more people have them, companies will find more uses for them, and more applications and services that make use of them will be developed,” he says – making life even more convenient for folks on both ends of digital transactions.
One reason people are still a bit wary of going paperless is because of security concerns – how do we know a hacker hasn’t hijacked a digital signature? – but Shetach says he’s got that covered. “One reason this business is so difficult is because we have to constantly upgrade our equipment, security, and procedures,” he says.
“Every time a scientist or hacker breaks a new cryptography code, we have to upgrade, by law.”
But users don’t need to worry, regardless of Comsign’s expenditures. “Because of the digital signature law, users who rely on an e-signature are covered,” Shetach says. As people get used to the idea, use of digital signatures will catch on – and when that happens, the revolution will steamroll, leaving behind neater homes and offices and greener forests, as the paperless world finally becomes a reality.